< Back to all Publications

Evolution of land rights in rural Brazil: frameworks for understanding, pathways for improvement

, and

Published: June, 2017

Brazil’s vast natural resources and thriving agricultural sector have contributed greatly to the nation’s emergence as a world economic leader. The country is now in a strong position to respond to two of the world’s most pressing issues: climate change and food insecurity. In fact, recent studies have shown that by improving the management of its natural resources, Brazil is well-positioned to simultaneously increase agricultural production while also improving environmental protection.

Today, however, Brazil lags behind much of the world in providing secure and well-defined property rights. In 2016, it ranked 64th on the International Property Rights Index (IPRI). It ranked even lower, at 80th, for secure property rights on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitive Index. Land rights insecurity is deeply entrenched in the country’s history and has profound consequences for the country as a whole.

This Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) analysis provides an in-depth look at the evolution of rural property rights in Brazil and the history that has shaped the complex situation the nation now faces. The problem of insecure property rights is so multi-faceted and complex that it is difficult for stakeholders and policymakers to know where to begin to make improvements; this paper provides a critical framework to understand the problems at hand and maps recommendations on where to begin. CPI identified four major areas of recommendations described in this analysis: governance, enforcement, regulation, and knowledge.

There are five sections to the discussion. Section 1 looks at the historic evolution of property rights in Brazil. Section 2 describes the current land structure with an explanation of the main land categories and the interaction between land rights and environmental protection with a focus on the Forest Code. Section 3 discusses four main challenges and barriers to improving land rights security. Section 4 presents an inventory of stakeholder actions and details three ongoing initiatives that have the potential to improve land organization and strengthen rural property rights. The paper culminates with Section 5, which outlines recommendations for improving rural property rights in Brazil.